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The 1-2-1-1 Diamond Press Defense

Most of you who watch Clemson basketball are familiar with our pressure defense, but you may not understand how its implemented. This post is the first in a series that is meant to help expand our understanding of what exactly Clemson is doing out there, and to help you see what they do right and what they do wrong. Its not going to help those who already know a lot about basketball, just a few primers on the offense and defense we run the most often for those that don't. Oliver Purnell's favorite zone pressure is the Diamond, or 1-2-1-1.

What is it?

The full court Diamond-and-one defense gets its name from the alignment as seen from above the court. One player stands under the basket, with two players at the corners and another at centercourt to make a diamond shape. The 5th player is the last line of defense in the lane if the press is broken. The difference between the Diamond and the 1-3-1 is really just the position of the guy trying to make the steal. Notice in the pic below on the left, the 4 is under the post, depending on the coach's philosophy about attacking the inbound or your personnel, and if 4 is a good interceptor of passes or the opponent is a good passing team, you can switch the PG and the 4 in initial alignment. This is a gameplan adjustment for an opponent, but I've seen Clemson play both depicted below (generally the one on the top, but we'll explain the 2nd).


The Press has two primary goals, which you'll be able to tell from how it aligns:

  • Force the ball to their handler along the sideline, where he can be "trapped" by two guys and forced to lob the ball over their heads where it can be intercepted. In this case the front defender will stand at center court and try to assure the pass to the other corner.
  • Force the ball to a particular handler or even deny the inbound pass. In this case the frontline defender can jump in front of the inbound man and try to intercept the pass, or set himself up so that he forces the pass to be made to the short side of the court.

So the first thing to point out is that its not the front defender's job to stop the ball, he's there only to try to make them pass it to one of the guys on the wing, so that then the ballhandler can be double-teamed or that pass intercepted. He should always be even with the ball.

After the pass is initiated, two defenders are supposed to run to it, with arms UP, and try to pin him against the sideline. This will be the X2 or the X3 along with another defender depending on where the pass was made (X denotes a defender, P an offensive player). The X2/3 stays back just far enough so that the inbound pass can't be thrown behind him. If their Guard pulls back and tries to dribble around, the point defender should be there to force him to head back into the trap. One of the 2 men on the corners will come up to keep him from coming down the court. Remember, time is on the side of the defense. 

For example, if I was running a half court diamond, and if there was a P1 on X1 matchup, and he takes the ball to the left wing, our X2 should come up in front of him and keep him from coming down the court. If he goes right, the X3 should come up and prevent.

When you see the opposing Guard double-teamed, you should watch the arms of the defenders, they should be up and out away from their bodies, not reaching in to take the ball away, unless he dribbles face-on with them. If they keep their hands down and try to reach to take the ball away, they'll get a foul called. This is not a smart foul while in the backcourt.  The defender should only move his feet into the correct position to trap the ballhandler. Their goal is only to force a bad pass by making him pick up the dribble, or get a 5/10 sec call and get the turnover. Someone else is supposed to rotate up from the other side to midcourt and pick off the pass, which should be the other corner/wing defender.


The gap-man at midcourt (who may be an X1 or X4, depending) is to shift over and stop any high arcing pass to the opposite sideline, while the 5 (the safety) stays in the lane in case the press is broken. If you see a pass and an easy layup, its because X5 was out of position to stop it, or he was outnumbered and didnt want to foul. He'll only come out to trap someone when the ball gets to the defensive corners down the court. X1/4 will only trap at the midcourt area with one of the two wings, the X2 or the X3. In a full court set, he parallels the movement of the ball: if its passed to one side of the court (side to side, not the length) then he is supposed to shift to that side. The other wing shifts back into the middle to stop any pass to the side where he was just standing. The X5 will shift but its not but a few feet, he stays in the lane or atop the key.

For example, the inbound pass is forced to P1 on one side of the court. Lets say the X2 comes up to guard, while the X1 runs over to trap P1. The offense brings up another guard P2 to the other side of the court, giving them 3 men in the area: P1, P2, and the inbounder P3. See below.


The ball is reversed back to the inbounder P3. The X1 then hustles over to help the X3 who comes up to trap, while the X2 backs up and prevents a pass back to the original ballhandler. The X4 moves closer to the sideline at midcourt, and X5 steps over to that ballside of the lane.


If the ball gets to the mid court line, the X4 should be there to prevent them from coming down the sideline, with a wing defender to assist him in trapping. The X4 moves into the backcourt area, and watches for them to pass the ball across him, keeping in mind that they cant cross that mid court line again.


So you see they are just supposed to shift left and right, keeping the diamond alignment, as the ball travels down the court.

If the ball makes it past this trap, there could be an offensive player standing in the corner down that sideline. Imagine the P3 coming down to the corner in the picture above. You'll see the X5 come over to guard him and prevent a 3 point shot from the corner. Whomever was helping the trap will now come down and help 5, while 4 rotates back into the post area. The X2 should already be watching from the lane to prevent a pass to the backside, while the PG should be at the top of the key.

All the way down the court, there should be a 1-2-1-1 alignment. If they can get the ball past the press like this, the defense will usually settle into a half court man/man or a zone. Sometimes you'll notice us give up the trap after the first attempt fails to get a turnover, called a "one and done" trap.

Thats the basics of a 1-2-1-1, but both Clemson and Tennessee do run it slightly differently, with the X4 standing under the post guarding the inbounder. He's not really guarding him, but stands there with his arms flailing and forces the pass to the short side. The PG will be back in the middle. The X4 will then go over to the wingman and help trap the man who receives the inbounds pass, or will back up to midcourt while the X1 will come up to trap. I can recall Clemson doing both, but the man at midcourt needs to be able to move and intercept passes. Obviously this will be changed around considering who is actually in the game, because if the P3 (in the diagram) who receives the inbounds can just run by the defenders, the whole press is shot. Below is a very aggressive press where the X5 is up the court.



The X3 will be anticipating the pass back to the inbounder, while our X1 will stand between the two offensive players near midcourt and try to intercept any pass to either of them. His job is to read the shoulders of the passer: if parallel to the baseline, look to the P3 to the sideline on his left; if parallel to the sideline, look to his right to the P2.


How do most teams attack the Diamond in the full court?

You might see something like a 1-2-2 alignment initially, but there are alot of ways to attack it with various screens but the general weakness of the diamond is up the sidelines. If a team consistently beats you up the sideline, you have to adjust to something like a 1-2-2 press (X5 will come up opposite X2 into the backcourt). Clemson also runs a 1-2-2 pressure at times. There will be the inbounder and 2 guards on the corners, who will start running, and their job is to take the ball quickly and pass it down court before they can get trapped to one of the other two men down the court. Once they've passed it down the court they'll have a potential numbers mismatch against the lane defender X5 and the defense must quickly get back into their half court set.

And thats why you see pure athletes playing ball at Clemson who may lack a particular skill offensively. You are forced to recruit smaller lineups, so you have to fight to win on the boards. If they are not quick, they wont be able to come up to trap before the Guard reacts, and also won't be able to get down the court if the press is beaten with a good pass. Big guys don't always run so fast. You need guys that can run full speed, stop and shoot a 3 pointer or jumper on offense. Thats hard to do and keep it going.

If an offense has a really strong guard, you will not see as much challenging of the inbound passer, the defense will set up to take out their best guard by double-teaming him on the inbound pass, forcing the inbounder to push the ball to a weaker ballhandler. Once its in, the PG runs over to trap, and the man thats left on their best guard tries to prevent a pass back to him.

For a walkthrough of the 1-2-1-1 Diamond Half-Court trap, see this link.